With the Sonus Faber Serafino Tradition in your room, chances are high you will tend to let irrelevancies slide. Like food, water, and personal hygiene. Because you will have more important things to attend to. Like how unbelievably pretty these speakers are. That really is the first and last word — these loudspeakers are the best-looking that I have ever had the pleasure of seeing in my home. They’re embarrassingly well-made. Every aspect is attended to, and the whole is so over-the-top lux that they made the rest of my home look shabby.
The speakers are large — they take up some space, both visually and physically. But when the iconic string-grills in place, it’s the subtle visual cues from the cabinets take precedence over the drivers, and the eye is drawn to the brushed aluminum that appears inset, separating out luscious wedges of Wengè wood veneer that practically glow with reflected light. Every angle reveals another visual delight. The soft curves, the gentle grain, the fluted vents, even the machining of the thread on the footers — every detail has been thought about, dressed up, and refined.
I’ve talked about the pleasures of owning and driving a BMW before. Elegance, power, control. But this Sonus Faber is pure Maserati. Elegance, class, and chic, wrapping up a fully immersive sonic treat.
To be honest, they’re almost pretty enough that you won’t feel you’ll need to play them to justify their presence in your most formal of formal rooms, parties, or guests. You and your guests can just stare at them, and that will be enough. In fact, it may be fair — reasonable even — to simply end the review right here. If you can afford these, do, because they’re art.
Side note for those paying attention, this beauty is hardly out of place on a loudspeaker named after “The Burning Ones”, or, as we might say in English, the Seraphim. In the Book of Isaiah (6:1-8), we find these six-winged beings flying around the Throne of God crying “holy, holy, holy”.
Chances are, you’ve heard the story of the Amati Tradition. I’m not going to recap all of that here as pretty much every reviewer that ever accepts products from Sonus Faber has already retold it. But what I will add to that “tradition” is to note that history is every bit as important to the company as the look-and-feel of the products. It is, in a very real sense, woven right into the brand.
If that sounds cliché, let me assure you that it is different in today’s high-end. Unlike some of today’s hi-fi darlings, Sonus Faber isn’t really selling product — they’re selling lifestyle. But even that is too modest — what Sonus Faber is trying to do is offer a vision of what your life could be: sexy as hell. This is the first thing I noted about the brand, honestly, and it’s something that very few brands pull off successfully. Check out the “Tradition Reel” video to get a taste.
My humble opinion? Hi-Fi could use a lot more of this.
Brian Hunter talks with Sonus Faber’s Livio Cucuzza and Paolo Tezzon about the history, philosophy and design of their speakers in The Occasional Podcast (above).
Here are some notes I took when I first “met” the Serafino Tradition at the World of McIntosh Townhouse in 2017.
For the Tradition line, you’ll note the porting. It’s not round or square, but rather a vertical slot. The flanges flanking create what the designer Livio Cucuzza called a “wave effect”, but also sets up the vertical binding posts, a nice visual touch.
Note that these speakers also deviate from the traditional SF “rake”. With a straight up-and-down presentation, the overall footprint is decreased, and those of us with limited space can rejoice. But! Even without it, the phase correction normally found in a raked design is still there — it’s just now handled in the crossover.
The cross-section of the speaker is also different, and much closer to the “traditional” (if it can be called that) “boat-tail” design, that would probably be described as “lute-shaped” because this is Sonus Faber and all of these speakers are named after luthiers. When quizzed about the shape, Mr. Cucuzza talked about the organic sound these shapes create and Mr. Tezzon talked about the refraction of sound waves. The point — it’s worth the effort.
Under the covers, the Sonus Faber drivers have seem some evolutionary strides. Mr. Tezzon described the current woofer tech is “voiced for coherence”; and the drivers are treated pulp (paper) sandwiched around “syntactic foam”. The tweeter is a “trickle down” from the Lilium, and when I was in Manhattan, Mr. Tezzon provided a graph for the on-axis and off-axis frequency response. A soft-dome tweeter (like that used in the Minima) gives truly excellent off-axis response, which is critical to a speaker’s “disappearing act”, he said, but cannot provide a smooth and linear high-frequency response to 20k without losing steam. A hard-dome tweeter (like that used in the Stradivari) can get the excellent extension, but loses the off-axis response. Their approach with their new tweeter, developed and leveraged in the Lilum, successfully blends the two for excellent off-axis response and smooth linearity up past 20kHz.
More details, plus specs, are included here.
The Sonus Faber Serafino Tradition are rear-ported and physically large, so my recommendation is either lots of space or some good room treatments in order to really let them rip — and truth be told, they deserve a healthy stage to perform on. As I found out with my old Tidal Contriva Diacera SE loudspeakers, my “regular” listening room (14′ front wall) isn’t really large enough for speakers like this; I ended up with Serafinos in my living room (better light, but worse acoustics).
At 4Ω and 90dB, the Serafinos don’t need a lot of power, but what power you provide ought to be able to work with a moderate-to-tough load. Most of my listening was done with a Pass Labs INT-60, which provided more than enough grunt to light up the speakers as if they were Towers of Power at a KISS concert. I also had brilliant luck with a Bakoon AMP-41, which not only provided sufficient grunt to activate the bass nodes in my living room, but also brought a nice delicacy to the top-end.
All cabling was from Triode Wire Labs (review here).
What I heard was the right amount of detail, wrapped in lovely timbre, presented with a sense of intimacy. Vocals, especially, practically glow through these loudspeakers; someone clearly spent a great deal of time listening to them during their voicing, someone with the mandate of ensuring that the human voice would be presented in all its raspy, guttural, breathy, round, clarion glory. “Hair-raising” was something I wrote in my notes. Overall, the speakers had a warm, robust, and forgiving presentation that I have come to call the Sonus Faber “house sound”.
My kids required some Imagine Dragons, so they cycled through Roon until they found the overwrought, angsty, and wickedly compressed track “Demons” one afternoon and promptly Let The Wild Rumpus Start, quickly cycling in Flora Cash (“You’re Somebody Else” from You’re Somebody Else) and Portugal The Man (“Feel It Still” from Woodstock). Being the eclectic little collectors they are, this also included a tour through The Greatest Showman soundtrack. I’m not much for musicals, but the opening track has great, driving vocals, courtesy of The Wolverine (actor Hugh Jackman), and the changeups from quiet-and-intimate to giant-ensemble are fantastic.
I’ve been told I’m not allowed to share the video.
I experimented a bit with the toe-in. I started with “straight out” and found the image cleanly centered. Vertical dispersion was pretty good, too, which meant that “cavorting” was well-supported. Some modest toe-in seemed to bring the overall quality up a hair or two with a bit more natural feel to the overall presentation, but I don’t think I’d swear to it; feel free to experiment here. Also, regardless of where you set the toe-in, the Serafinos throw a wide sweet spot, a “feature” I found just delightful in my “real life” living space. These loudspeakers are ready to share your love of music — an admirable goal that I wish more designers worked toward.
This “feature” played exceptionally well during a few events — queueing playlists through Roon to an ultraRendu, or sliding CDs into a Bel Canto CD3t — brought music to a crowd of a dozen adults (and an equal number of non-adults, we were in man-to-man coverage), and as the mayhem level rose, so did the music.
Bass performance was excellent, and as I mentioned, a bit of an over-performer for a non-damped room. When I was able to sneak room treatments into the room, I was also able to turn the volume all the way over, causing canine panic three doors down. The upshot — the Serafinos will take all that you can give and then some.
I feel like I’m repeating myself by saying that the Sonus Faber Serafino Tradition are wonderful. I already did that during the First Listen back in 2017. More so, we named them an Editor’s Choice in The Occasional 2018 Buyer’s Guide. In short, we think they’re amazing.
What really stands out is the astonishing build-quality. It really is hard to overstate how striking these loudspeakers are in person. The Red finish is extraordinary, but the Wengè just blew me away. If you’re looking for a pair of loudspeakers that have to live in shared spaces and look damn impressive while playing or just sitting there looking regal when silent, I cannot think of a better purchase. Well, other than the slightly larger Amati Tradition, that is.
$21,900/pair is expensive. No question and no argument. You could buy a Kia for that.
But owning the Serafinos — heck, owning anything from this speaker line, from the Amati to Serafino to the stand-mounted Guarneri — are decidedly not like owning a Kia. I mentioned “Maserati” above, and I’m sticking to that analogy. Owning this speaker is like owning a Maserati. Better — it’s like being able to drive one.
This is your life, just way better looking.
Sonus Faber Serafino Tradition (website). $21,900/pair, US Retail.
[Note: this article first appeared in the Spring 2019 Edition of The Occasional Magazine.]